I don't know why, but after picking up an old bottle of Spitfire from work I felt compelled to try some of the other Shepherd Neame stuff along with it. Turns out, that's not a great idea.
Spitfire is up first, and as I've said, it was an old bottle. It was in it's month of expiry (or BBE) so I guess it's important to bear that in mind. Also important to note is the infamous habit of Shepherd Neame using clear glass bottles. I think I've heard somebody somewhere say it's done so that you can see the colour of the ale inside, as if looking at it in the glass wasn't enough, but that's unverified. However vague the reasoning behind it, there's no doubting the dire consequence.
The first thing you get from the aroma is a terrible singed sweetcorn skunkiness. Really, it's a nasty smell to get anywhere, let alone from something you're expected to consume. Underneath the mess there's a faint silhouette of what the beer was or should be: toffee and light fruit. The taste is marginally better, forgoing much of the skunk material and heading straight for the light toffee malt and hinted hop presence of Spitfire Proper, followed by a tin foil finish I might still expect in a fresh, unskunked bottle. Still, this counts for very little as it's hard to drink without smelling it, and it's hard to enjoy anything that smells like this.
Next up is Canterbury Jack. This one wasn't exactly fresh off the press either, but it still had plenty of time left on it's BBE, so there should be nothing to worry about. True to this, the Lucozade-coloured beer in the glass doesn't assault the nose quite like the Spitfire, although it does have a touch of the same defect. There's some dried corn and grain, like in an adjunct lager, with a hint of some toffee malt and a light hop profile. The taste is again *yawn* toffee malt leading into a fruity character, perhaps leaning more towards citrus than darker, red fruits. The regulation English Ale biscuit flavour rears it's head at the finish, and that's that. Nothing to see here, move on people.
Bishops Finger is the last of the three, and I had high hopes for this one. You see, the Spitfire was nasty as hell, but it was old, and had been sitting out and enjoying the light for quite a while. The Canterbury Jack also had some months beneath it's clear-glass belt, and was generally boring anyway. The Bishop's Finger, on the other hand, was purchased in Lidl, and that works very much to its advantage. Lidl leave their beer in the boxes they come in, just opening the side so you can reach in and grab a bottle. In this way, I knew I was getting fairly fresh beer, and by fishing around the dark back of the box I could find a bottle that's seen next to no light exposure since leaving Kent, so hey, this should be perfect, right?
The Spitfire Nastiness® was pretty prevalent on the nose here too, albeit penetrable by the fruit, malt and nutty aroma of the beer to some degree. The taste is almost exactly the same, with the first real bitterness of the trio turning quickly into a twang of tin foil in the finish, not to mention the curious sugary character throughout. It's not too bad, and unlike the others, I managed to finish the entire bottle to a level of satisfaction that I can only describe as being below average. Still, that's not exactly value for money. If you're buying beer in Lidl, you're best bet is to stick to the Franziskaner.
So, there you have it. I don't think I've ever been this let down by three beers in a row. Still, the Destrier rides on, and will bravely (yet perhaps foolishly) continue it's investigation of Shepherd Neame.
I just know you make good beer, and I'm determined to prove it.